Thursday, December 31, 2009


A good synopses of this year, finance wise can be found here. It was the end of the housing bubble but now we are either in a stock bubble or this is a great time to invest in the market. Heard of lots of people I know losing their jobs in the past 16 months, but over the holidays I heard about an out of work individual who found a job. At any rate, this is the year that most people stopped maxing out their credit cards and credit lines. It was also the year when twenty somethings gave up the dream of having their own pad and have to contend themselves to living at home, eating Mom's cooking and getting up when the family decides it's the appropriate time. I didn't run away from home til I was 25.

I have a few bests. Not many. My favorite movie this year was Sunshine Cleaning. My favorite new TV show is Being Erica, a Canadian dramady (on the Soap Channel on Saturdays). I now read sodium contents on food at the supermercado and allocate my liquor scientifically (well sort of). I avoid potato chips. I eat oat meal. I live a healthy lifestyle without being crotchety about it. Someone told me that anyway. She doesn't know what I'm like in the morning.

Hope you all still have your jobs, your relatives, your credit, your cars and your driver's licenses. Happy new year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Gruesome Christmas tree chopping stories

Like many college English majors, I have an unpublished novel on my hard drive. Here, we visit Colorado of the eighties and attempt to chop down a Christmas tree:

One of the great pleasures of life is having breakfast in an all night diner at four o'clock in the morning with good friends. The night changes to day. You get to watch truckers and delivery men come in with full loads and empty stomachs. The harsh cold fluorescent light of reality finishes off an evening of rock music, drugs, skinny dipping and unrequited love. It's four a.m. and you're ordering eggs with friends. Waylon Jennings is on the jukebox. The sun will be out soon and with it all of the expectations of the evening. You're drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and being your old grouchy selves.
So it came to pass that I was eating breakfast with Nancy and Gail at Mary and Lou's Cafe. Nancy invited me out to Jamestown to help chop down Christmas trees with them and the youngin's. I said I'd go.

There was some federal land by the old abandoned tungsten mine in Jamestown. Technically it was off limits to all poachers, but the locals treated it as their own private tree farm, and during December, were known to discretely cart off an evergreen or two in the spirit of the season.
Me, Nancy, Gail, and the two kids drove from Denver one cold morning in Gail's truck to carry off Christmas plunder from Jamestown. When we got to Jamestown, we stopped at Nancy's father's house and he gave us some cutting instructions. We were told, for one thing, that if anybody asked us where we came by our trees, we were to say that they came from the old Hill place, and that Daddy had been carting off trees with permission from the Hill family for thirty years. We carried axes instead of the usual power saws, because Nancy said it would be more authentic and we'd keep the noise down.

There we were with axes on a hill full of evergreens. It was the two women, me and Nathaniel. The consensus was that Gabriel was to be left with Grandpa. I chopped down the first tree. Boy, it was a lot of work. I must have hit that damn tree with that dull ax twenty times before it came down. Then Gail and Nancy chopped down their trees. Male chauvinist as I am, I have to admit that they disposed of their tree more swiftly than I did with mine. And theirs was bigger.

Within half an hour of chopping and stumbling over the icy meadow, the tree cutting duty was finished, and we got to the fun part of dragging the two trees down the hill and tying them onto the roof of the truck. This was actually more work than the cutting down of the evergreens had been. Fortunately, Nancy had brought a bottle for walking and so we were all in fine spirits by the time we got back to Dan Woodson's abode.

He was baby-sitting his grandson, and he let us in. We listened to old Jamestown Christmas tree cutting stories and drank beer. I almost cried when he told us about how old Uncle Jake lost his thumb one year cutting down balsam pines. But then he was a professional poacher so he probably deserved what happened.

Nan-u had one more house she wanted to visit. It was getting dark as we drove past Tim Hardin's old house and got to the cabin of Nancy's old school chum. Deloris was living with her affable but perennially out of work husband Fred. They greeted us with beer, tequila, sandwiches, and their two year old nymphomaniac daughter Tiger. While the adults were recanting gruesome Christmas tree chopping stories, Gabriel and Tiger retired to the bedroom to play doctor. A few bhongs into the evening the two youngsters flamboyantly entered the living room in their birthday suits.
The two moms started yelling, "Put your clothes on right now before we whip your butts!" They made so much noise they almost woke up Nathaniel. It was great to watch a recreation of the Genesis scene. It really got me into the spirit of the season.

Soon, it was time to leave, that is if anyone had expectations of getting to work or school or day care on time the next day. So we departed the cold, wintry, mountain town of Jamestown. With the trees precariously tied to the roof of Gail's truck we all headed back to Denver, our jobs, and our urban lives. When we got to town, first we hoisted Nancy and Gail's tree up the stairs of their place and then we hoist my tree DOWN the stairs of my basement condo.

Wow! I had a Christmas tree! Now all I needed was decorations. Then I found the box with the old family stuff that my parents had given me. This, I knew, was the stuff that neither my parents nor my older brother wanted. Then there was the entourage of decorations I had bought at flea markets in Denver the past three years. The tree, needless to say, was premium grade, and genuine.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow people

There are two types of people when it snows. The brave snow people and the cowardly snow people. The brave snow people were out in their cars on Saturday, driving at 65 miles an hour and having a wonderful time. They had the roads to themselves and the stores full of bargains and no customers.

Most of us are cowardly snow people. We stayed in the house on Saturday and ventured out on Sunday to devote two hours getting our cars ready for Monday. Monday morning I was ready for bear, didn't even need to clean the windshield.

My condo development has a rule that usually works. You park in the unassigned parking space and the snow plows clean all the regular parking spaces and lanes. Unfortunately the trucks didn't finish the job until eight p.m. so I had to leave my car in the unassigned space. Because my neighbor never moved his car, my regular space was never done, or at least left a lot to be finished off before it was ready for my precious car.

Tonight I have shoveled my parking space but there is a two inch sheet of ice that I have salted and am hoping for the best. As for now I'm still in the unassigned parking spaces. The residents did a great job on that lot!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Samuelson and economics

My brother attended a prestigious Eastern college in the sixties. One course that impressed him was Economics 101 taught by Paul Samuelson. At the dining room table (it must have been Sunday dinner) my brother explained to my father, an accountant, how inflation was good for the economy, according to his professor. Apparently, wages went up, prices went up, and everyone was better off. This must have ticked off my father because he slammed his hand on the table and said, "Yes, but that's creating a false economy".

Paul Samuelson died yesterday. He is most remembered for his textbook, read by Freshman economy students for decades. Students liked using the book. They knew they could always sell it come next year to the next batch of Freshman.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

MacDonald's coffee

I've been meaning to try the new MacDonald's coffee and so this morning, with money in my pocket, I drove to the closest MacDonald's. It was crowded and there was a line. Some of the regulars were there, the older men that congregate at MacDonald's in the morning and make a social occasion out of the deal.

There was one man who kept hitting himself on the chest and going, "86!". One of the old timers responded with "Is that your golf score or your cholesterol?"Ha ha ha's were heard from the crew.

I often wonder if a shy person like myself will turn into a garrulous old character when I start collecting Social Security. When you are an old guy you can tell everyone at MacDonald's your age and you can pinch teenage girls in the rump. What would be annoying or even illegal for the young becomes "cute" when you are old. It must be fun. Bring on the Lipitor.

Incidentally, the coffee wasn't bad. MacDonald's coffee used to be terrible. Now it tastes like diner coffee. Definitely an improvement.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thank you Tiger for helping us this holiday season

One of the problems we all have at Christmas parties, dinners, and the like is that lag in conversation. You're sitting next to Aunt Maureen or your friend's Uncle Malcolm and there is that moment where you are struggling for something to say. You already told them what you do for a living and it would be impolite to ask them how they pay their own bills. However, this season, thanks to Tiger Woods, that problem has been solved.

"So, do you think she hit him with those golf clubs or not?"

"I wonder how much booze she had in her when she started chasing him up the street?"

"So I see Tiger Woods was doing more swinging than on the course!"

And for the rest of the afternoon, you have the pleasant give and take of witty repartee, jokes, opinions, and happy fun filled laughter. Thank you Tiger and may you have a happy new year.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sarah Palin

Liberals, environmentalists, intellectuals, and public employees often scorn Sarah Palin. However, real political activists from the left are terrified of her. They know that deep inside the heartland of America people are more like Sarah Palin than Nancy Pelosi or Obama.
If you sit down with people in the suburbs or small towns of America you will find she is admired by people. She has gumption. She is the lady who sits at the Board of Education meeting and shouts, " I don't care about all this nonsense about T1 lines and shared connections, I just want to know why the Internet is so slow!" Then she gets elected to be head of the Board of Education and terrifies school teachers for a couple of years till she runs for mayor or later, governor.
She is the true America. The America of NASCAR, tailgating, Sunday school for adults, dessert parties and singing Christmas trees. You haven't lived till you've seen a singing Christmas tree.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lady Gaga

It all happened so fast. I've been exposed in a week to the most important cultural icon of the aughts (the 2000-2009 decade). It started last Wednesday when they discussed her on the Slate Cultural Gabfest. Then over the weekend I saw snippets of her on the American Music Awards excerpts. Monday night I saw an hour special on her on cable. An interview followed by some of her videos. Then I went to her website and read about her on Wikipedia. Yahoo offered up 5 videos. Today I saw Newsweek magazine and read that she was not really artistic just because she mentions Marcel Du Champ and Andy Warhol in interviews. Even Sarah Palin knows those names.

Of course she will lose her bohemian Lower East Side creds now that she is famous. She is probably passe among the hip 20's crowd just as the baby boomers are discovering her. She is the obvious post modernist version of Madonna (Italian American woman, sexual outfits) especially Madonna's Sex Vogue period. However, to me, she is closer to being Cher. She does disco like Cher and does those modulated vocals like Cher did in "Do You Believe". She is dressed sort of like Cher did in her tv show in the late 60's early seventies. However in a Marat Sade sort of way. She is a little more M than S methinks. Her latest hair style looks like her hair was cut with a lawn mower. She is the star for our times.

The fifties was the decade of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. The 60's was Kennedy and the Beatles. The 90's was Madonna and Clinton. The aughts are Obama and Lady Gaga. A decade defined.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How we spend our days

How we spend our days. This is a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2008. To this typical day I would like to add the following:
Processing Microsoft updates: 25 minutes
Processing Virus protection updates: 15 minutes
Processing I tunes updates: 10 minutes ( 60 minutes a week divided by 6)
Cleaning my hard drive: 15 minutes
Defragging my hard drive: 15 minutes.
One extra hour of every day of my life is spent doing these activities. I want to check my email; but first I must perform an update to my operating system. I want to download one of my favorite pods. But first I must update I tunes. Then at the end of the day there is disc cleanup and defragmenting. Now does this time come out of my sleep time, my eating time or my work time? I guess it comes out of the time I would otherwise spend on sports.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dreams from my Father

I have just finished Dreams from my father by Barack Obama. Being cheap, I borrowed it as a library book and after some searching, managed to procure a paperback, taped on both front and back covers. A bildungsroman of an individual who has a racially mixed background who looks for his African ancestors and discovered and in fact met some of them. He also played basketball and did some politicking in Chicago with American born African Americans. Like many people of mixed ancestry, he got to see the strengths as well as the disappointments of his peoples. A dilettante of people but not a true member of any group. The description of his life in Indonesia is also interesting and describes some of his childhood.

If he was an obscure senator in Illinois, this book might have become the darling of the academics and been assigned in high schools and colleges nationwide but because he is now our president, he can't be assigned without it looking overly political. It is a good book. Someone who wrote a decent book is now our president. That's really scary. Americans prefer B students who are well liked for their presidents.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ah counters

As this recession drags on, many people are looking into other professions where there is hiring. According to the Occupational Outlook Survey, one of the fields with good prospects is that of the "ah" counter. This is a position where you sit at a table and whenever the speaker says "uh", "er", "like", or makes other useless interjections, the "ah" counter makes a little mark with a pencil. At the end of the speech, the "ah" counter tells the speaker how many times he said "ah". Fines or, in some cases, thrashings are then administered.
As a full time salary, an "ah" counter can be expected to clear over $80,000 a year. There has been a creeping towards piecework in the field, however, ie. payment for "ah"s. In this system the "ah" counter is paid a set amount for each "ah" he counts.

While I was an English major at college, I thought I might be a poet. I'd toss off a poem every week, make humongous amounts of money, and spend the rest of my time drinking beer with my friends. I was disappointed when the professor told the class that poets get virtually no payment for their work unless they are endowed by a major university. As good a deal as being an "ah" counter seems, it could turn out to be another fleeting position where the aesthetic rewards outstrip the monetary. Sort of like being a librarian.

Editor's note: Apologies to Toastmasters. "Ah counters" are volunteer positions.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I went to sleep a Democrat and woke up a Republican

After being born a Democrat, Wednesday morning I woke up a Republican. It felt funny at first. I still remember my Democratic upbringing and the wild parties with the Young Dems I was subjected to as a child. I went through my pseudo
college radicalism in college, then through adulthood easily slipping into the whiny liberalism of a mainstream Democrat. Then when I woke up and heard the election results, I realized I was now in the army of service to Republicanism.

Lifestyle changes can be abrupt. David Letterman will have to go and certainly no more Chelsea Lately. From now on I will watch the Jay Leno show. The mustache is toast. Maybe I can get a good deal on a General Motors SUV.

Now that I am a Republican I can safely eat at Denny's and enjoy the breakfast specials at Bob Evan's without feeling guilty. I will have to give up WXPN radio now and learn to listen to country western. Glad I didn't throw out my ties. I'll need them now. After all, I'm a Republican. Anybody want to go to Branson Missouri for a show?
Editor's note: Paul Krugman, the New York Times Nobel laureate and Princeton professor has a good article on Obama's dilemma.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Driving ages

An article in Governing magazine discusses the age at which a youth should be accorded the rights of an adult. Drinking is 21 but you can enlist in the Army at 17 with a parent's signature when you become 18. I was just talking to a young man who just signed up to help Uncle Sam when he graduates high school. However, even the Army no longer allows under age privates to take a drink.

Driving ages vary from state to state. New Jersey has a rather complicated set of rules for setting down the road legally. Ruminating on this topic led me down memory lane and my trips to Texas as a twelve year old to visit with dear Mama's kinfolk.

I remember she set me out to play with my young female second cousins. One was thirteen and one was ten. "Y'all want to come for a ride, Yankee boy?" the older cousin yelled. First thing I knew I was aboard a 52 Chevy Impala and the thirteen year old was driving the three of us around the byways of rural East Texas. Soon we came to a gas station and we all emptied out nickels and pennies from our pockets and bought thirty five cents of gas. The younger cousin wanted to drive too, so, to be fair, her older sister let her take the wheel for the ten miles or so back home where chicken and hush puppies awaited us.

My mother explained to me that down in Texas kids drove all over but mostly stuck to country roads. They also shot quail, chewed tobacco, and drank corn liquor before they were fourteen. After reading the article in Governing I was curious if what I saw was routine or out of the ordinary. Please let me know if you grew up in a rural area and drove before you were twelve. I'm just curious.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The recession is over

Today the New York Times reported that the Gross Domestic Product had gone up, technically ending the recession. As I passed out the GDP report this morning, one of the economists congratulated me on ending the recession. I am happy to be of service. Here is the technical definition of a recession.

This does not mean everybody is going to go back to work or that everyone will remain in their homes. It does mean that most people will be okay economically in a year or so.
Next year the good times will be back. Everyone will be happy, sexually satisfied, and will get raises in their jobs. Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monday mornings

The time in life when you feel most alive and most part of the working world is when you get up late on a cold Monday morning. You gulp down your coffee, skip breakfast, rush to take a shower. The water takes a long time to get warm. Oh %&%$$79 I'm going to be late. Oh why do they schedule those stupid meetings for Monday morning!

You manage to get dressed. Your tie is on wrong but you can fix that when you get to work. You go outside. NOOOO %)(*&^&^% there's ice on the windshield. You don't have time to warm up the car properly so you get out the darn ice scraper. You scrape it off. It is hard and the ice comes off only with a great effort. You drive down the street with a peephole that you can see out of. Oh *&^%^&()*) the darn sun is making it impossible to see.

The best part of retirement must be those Monday mornings when you can have a second cup of coffee and listen to the witty people on the radio. You don't have to scrape ice off of your windshield. You can let the sun do it's hard work.
Editor's note: I just read in Newsweek that I won't be able to retire after all. I need another cup of coffee.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Spare the rod and spoil the child

The recent incident of the balloon boy shows why America needs to bring back an old tradition. Belting our children. Making the whole world think he's aloft in a balloon while he's hiding in the attic. Reminds me a bit of the incident in Tom Sawyer where the kids go to their own funeral. What that kid needs is a good spanking. A couple belts and he'll think twice before getting into any more shenanigans.
Editor's note: My apologies to the poor misunderstood child. Apparently it was the parents who were at fault.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


The big news this week in terms of blogging is the FTC regulation that bloggers must reveal when they get money and goods for plugging a product. This has made me think. Perhaps I had been missing out on an opportunity.

I went to the local supermercado and I found the weekend manager. After she finished describing her boyfriend's Volvo, I got the chance to tell her that I was writing a blog.

"A blog? she exclaimed. Wow. Diggity dog sleds!" She then proceded to bring a pallet over to my car in the parking lot. It was filled with enough groceries to fill my refrigerator and all of my cabinets. All I had to do is shill the products on my blog.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Men with mustaches make more money

Read this on the web today. Here it is:

CHICAGO (Reuters Life!) - Maybe American men should skip a day of shaving, especially when interviewing for a job.
Sporting a mustache may improve your chances of landing a higher paying job, according to a study commissioned by financial services provider Quicken and the American Mustache Institute which admittedly represents people opting for facial hair.
The study found that mustached Americans earned 8.2 percent more on average than those with beards and 4.3 percent more than the clean shaven.
But the news is not all good. Mustached Americans also tended to spend 11 percent more and save 3 percent less than their collective counterparts, according to the study, titled "Saving and Spending Patterns of Mustached Americans."
"If efficiencies in financial management could be realized in the near-term .. it's highly probable that over the next four to five years, we will see mustached Americans' savings rate grow to surpass their bearded and shaven peers," research consultant Hans Menjou-Bartchen said in a statement.
The study was conducted during the first six months of 2009, examining a random sample of 2,000 mustached American men along with 2,000 bearded and 2,000 clean-shaven peers.
(Reporting by
Ben Klayman, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

To be honest, having a mustache has never helped my get a job. Heck, I took eleven years of interviewing to get my first librarian job! Still the part about men with mustaches being big spenders is certainly true. Sometimes I even go to a restaurant without a coupon.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


When I bought my condo I was told by the engineer doing the inspection that my dryer vent may be against the building code. Rushing to get through the closing I figured, "Who would ever know?" I was happy in my sweet ignorance. Two weeks ago I got a notice that all of the units would have to be inspected and that I had to make an appointment. I did not know that they inspected condos for code and fire hazards.

All week I was worried that I would have to vent the dryer to the attic. Then the squirrels up there would come down into my kitchen. It would all be a major nuisance and cost me hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

The inspector came. He pushed the buttons on my carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. They beeped. The inspector left, never looking at my kitchen or my washer dryer. I am a happy man. The neighbor downstairs failed for not having a carbon monoxide detector. He ran to the KMart, bought one and showed his purchase to the inspector who was still making his rounds on the premises. He passed.

Having a government that protects us from fire hazards and enhances our safety as citizens makes every penny we pay in taxes worthwhile.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cognitive dissonance

Saturday I explored the Delaware Canal in Pennsylvania. Very pleasant and at the furthest point of my walk I arrived in Yardley and went into town and stopped for breakfast in a diner. At the diner there were two restrooms. The lady's room had a line of four people. The men's room was free and I could walk right in. One of the nice features of being a man.

Inside the room had one toilet and no urinal. The thought occurred to me that to be equitable, the owner could make both of the restrooms unisex. That way, men and women could have an equal opportunity to use the facility, as the rooms themselves were identical. Then it occurred to me that since women take three times as long to use a facility as men, it would mean a longer wait for me personally.

Later I came to the conclusion that since people might forget to do the latch, a man could walk in on a woman doing her business and that that would be a bad thing. I decided that the way things were was the best way and also, coincidentally, the way that I would benefit from.

The most valuable thing I learned in psychology 101 in college was the rule of cognitive dissonance. You can see it in baseball where the runner honestly believes he is safe and the fielder honestly believes he tagged the man.

We all tend to believe things in our heart that benefit us personally. Hence the rule of cognitive dissonance. People who don't drive believe that gasoline should be more heavily taxed. People who commute by car believe that train fares are too low. The coffee was good too.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Web 2.0

When people talk about Web 2.0, one of the things they talk about is IM ing and social networks like Facebook, My Space, and Twitter. One service I have used is ICQ (I seek you). Lesser known in the US, it is extremely popular internationally and allows one to communicate in real time with people you don't know from Adam. Originally a text only service, it now allows for web cam and microphone to speaker contact.

ICQ is designed for strangers to meet, not just people who know each other. You can search for people by age, sex, keywords in a profile such as "classical music" or "cock fighting". This allows one to presumably find people with common interests. I have talked over the years with people in England, Thailand, China, Canada and even the United States. Recently I talked to someone from Siberia. She claimed to be able to see bears outside her window.

The webcam aspect brings a level of reality to the proceedings. You can see the plant behind the person or the wall that needs painting. Once when using the webcam I saw the daughter whining in the background. A stern command in Mandarin sent the youngster scampering off. Webcamming has made me put a clean shirt on and trousers, while previously I had ICQed in my underwear.

The ability to talk to people from different backgrounds and wildly different environments is one of the fulfilled promises of the Internet. It, like anything else, has its pitfalls. Ladies wanting to show you pictures of them in their girdles occasionally pop up. I'm old enough to remember when ladies wore girdles.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tires and chickens

The latest economic news
to come along on the pike is the decision of our President to slap a hefty tariff on Chinese made tires. This, presumably, to help American tire workers. In return, the Chinese are threatening to slap a tariff on American chicken parts, presumably to help their own poultry farmers.

Hence, one of the classic battles is being waged between those old adversaries, tires and chickens. Those of us who have been privileged to drive through the Olde South have seen many a front yard where chickens are hanging out with the old tires that are decorating the front lawn. The chickens peck on the tires for exercise, and even raise their young inside the tires. If the tires and chickens in Arkansas can get along, maybe we can get along with China.

Editor's note: When I wrote papers in college, I was always using hence.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paunches are in now

For years, men have been trying to get in shape. They work out in the gym, walk, run, bike and keep away from fast food all in order to look good and project a with - it appearance. Today, however, all that has changed. With the publication of one article in the New York Times, men with a paunch can now be said to have the hip look of today.

Men! You can cancel your gym membership! Throw out your diet books! Plow under your garden! You can start guzzling beer again!

Pot bellies are in. Having a Ralph Kramden physique is the sign that you are ahead of the times on the cultural scene. Get out the mirror. Today you are hip. Your friends are hip. Even Uncle Charley was hip. Who would have thought such a thing? To be hip today, men need a beer belly. If we had only known that last year. Anybody want to order a pizza? Extra sausage please.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Army reunions

One of the great pleasures in life is taking your parents to your father's army reunions. Men who served in World War 2 like to get together with other veterans and chew the fat and drink alcohol. When men get to a certain age, however, they need to be driven to such places by, ideally, their children. For children asked to take part in such expeditions there are advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are
  • It's a cheap trip. Gas, lodgings, food are paid for by dear old dad.
  • You get to hear what a character your father was and if you are lucky, told stories your mother didn't hear.
  • You get helpful driving instructions and are pinpointed various interesting sites to be viewed from the highway.
  • You get to go to places like Jimmy Carter's fireworks and tobacco stands so everybody can go to the bathroom and you can buy souvenirs which you can hoist on your friends as Christmas presents.
  • Once you are there, you get to go to a bar with the other kids of the veterans. One year they had it in New Orleans and I got to march in the Halloween parade. I wore my shirt backwards as a make shift costume.

The disadvantages are

  • You get helpful driving instructions and are pinpointed various interesting sites to be viewed from the highway.
  • You get told to get off at the wrong exit.
  • You get to drive for miles in driving rain.
  • You listen to a lot of country and western on the radio. No rock and roll allowed in Dad's car.
  • You have to find parking places real close to the places you want to go.

I had the added advantage of driving my mother to her nursing school reunion. We all said the pledge of allegiance. I know everybody had to bring a gift. My mother brought an African violet plant.

Still, it's a good way to spend time with aging parents. You do remember those times after they are gone.

Editor's note: I couldn't find a link to it on the Internet but in the early 1990's there was a Jimmy Carter's stand in Georgia. It was not run by the ex president but a guy who's real name was Jimmy Carter. Anyone having pictures of this place can let me know in a comment.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sorry, Paul

Sorry, Paul. You're not getting any more money out of me. I first gave you money in February of 1964 when I bought "I Want to Hold Your Hand" at Modell's in Lodi, New Jersey. After that it's been 45's, albums, videocassettes, movie tickets, DVD's, re-hashes, Russian releases, and mash-ups. I also went through the bootleg phase. Now you want me to buy a whole new collection of the music I already have. I'm also not going to buy the game. I'll continue to listen to the Beatles the way they were meant to be played. On my turntable.

Remastered Beatles get back in new digital form
Iain Shedden, Music writer September 02, 2009
Article from:
The Australian
BEATLEMANIA is about to erupt once more. September 9 sees the release of the Beatles' back catalogue, including their 12 studio albums, in digitally remastered form.

The releases coincide with the launch, on the same day, of The Beatles Rock Band, the interactive video game in which players get to join the Fab Four on stage and in the studio.
Remastered Beatles get back in new digital form.
Iain Shedden, Music writer September 02, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

The declension of the economy

Last week, after the latest Consumer Confidence Survey, I announced to the economists at work that the recession was over. Today, I'm not so sure. Things will get better eventually but it will be a while until things get back to normal. I'm working on my next blog. It will be about driving your parents to an army reunion.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The uninsured

To me, the first thing that needs to be done if to find some way to insure the uninsured. Adults who don't have it need health insurance of some sort. The problem is that most voters are middle aged or older and have some type of health insurance themselves. So why do something that's going to crowd your doctor's office with new people and raise your taxes besides?

The tipping point is most people worry about their children and their grandchildren. When enough middle class, middle aged, people have children who don't have health insurance, the uninsured will get health insurance.

The young man calls home from a phone booth in Denver. "Well Dad, I got a job!"

Dad: "Great! Does it come with health insurance?"

Mr. Mustache: "Duh, no, I'm contract labor."

Dad to Mother, "Well we're gonna have to keep buying his insurance till Mr. Mustache gets a better job".

Dad at that point would be a good candidate to become a supporter of health insurance for the uninsured. People will do things for their own they won't do for the neighbors across the street.

A guy who likes his clunker

This essay from the Christian Science Monitor is cute. I'm afraid I am too anal to be that casual about my car, however.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bring back CETA

When I graduated from college I couldn't find a job. Finally, I got a part time position at Two Guys selling hot dogs. I lied and told them I was a college drop out in order to secure this prestigious and interesting opportunity. A few months later, my mother called her girlfriend who was on the board of the local library and the library created a job for me, funded by CETA. I worked for $2.10 an hour and got health insurance for one year with a CETA job.

CETA died a few years later, replaced by various programs in different states. Today there is no one federal program like WPA or CETA to provide jobs directly to unemployed individuals. Even as the economy starts to get better, it will probably be another job-less recovery. What this country needs is another CETA.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Julie and Julia

I remember the first time I discovered Julia Child. It was the inaugural evening of Channel 13, then WNDT television, and they were presenting highlights of all the shows that were going to be featured on New York's new educational channel. The show was called "the French Chef" and over the years I learned to do a decent Julia Child impression. Unfortunately I don't really like French food outside of crepes and French fries.

The movie is worth seeing, but not worth all the hype. I am, however, a big Amy Adams fan. Loved both Miss Pettigrew and Sunshine Cleaning. The movie is entertaining and I can sympathize with an aspiring blogger wanting to be recognized. I found the original blog! Reading that may be a nice project. I wonder if Knopf knows how to get in touch with me.
Editor's note: I've been reading the original blog. Interesting. I can see Julia Child's point. I don't care for the person who writes that blog either.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

2009 plants

Just a heads up (I heard someone use that expression yesterday, he was from California) my tomato blog has some new pictures. What a surprise. It's raining today!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

the Elevator at work

The major new thing about switching jobs late in life is that you have to get used to new things. Having to ride elevators is the major new aspect of my life at work. I do it frequently during the day and it is always educational.

People talk about the usual things on elevators. Their children, their grandchildren, their pets. Why their bosses are lousy administrators. Why they work harder than their co-workers. I also hear a lot about retirements, grumbling about the furloughs, and kvetching about the weather.

I have also learned about entirely new things on the elevator. Last week I learned about foster dogs. I never knew there was such a thing. I now know the good things as well as the bad, sigh, about volunteering to take a foster dog.

A teachable moment

If there is a teachable moment in the Gates incident, it is that it is never a good idea to mouth off to cops. They are usually hot tempered and can get mean real easily. I know kids mouth off to their parents, their teachers, and when they get older, their bosses. But mouthing off to cops is still not a good idea.

In my mission of keeping my thousands of followers up to date on the latest cultural events, I can recommend a new show, Long Distance Relationship. It is on hulu and each episode is five minutes long. Even people with ADD can enjoy this show. The girl is cute too.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The coalition of the swilling

Buried deep in the Stimulus bill is a provision that the White House will attempt to create memorable items and phrases that comedians and columnists can use to create funny bits. This August two new stories have been produced with this aim in mind. The beer summit and the Cash for Clunkers Program will always come to mind when we remember 2009. The 2059 high school reunions will make references to these two events.

Britain has a system whereby union leaders gather at the Prime Minister's office for beer and sandwiches. Perhaps this is the American equivalent. Obama, an Anglophile, modified the time worn custom and changed the sandwiches to honor peanuts, a product of the American South. The Cash for Clunkers program has been wildly popular, but unfortunately, underfunded.

There is the problem of how to keep the Obama White House from being dull. The Clintons always had their bickering and his girlfriends. The Bushes had their fun loving daughters to bring levity to their administrations. For Obama, there will be the occasional media event with catchy names.

Editor's note: The title of this blog is stolen from the Slate Political Gabfest.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nude bathing

A recent article in Time magazine talks about how nude bathing is no longer in fashion in France. This article awoke memories for me about my first experience of nude bathing. I was going to Rutgers and I met a lady who lived in Ridgewood, New Jersey, a bastion of old money, or at least what passes for it in New Jersey.

My mother was very impressed with me dating someone from Ridgewood. "Mr. Mustache is moving up in the world I see", she remarked.

So I drove to Ridgewood and met my female friend. We chatted and what-not and then went to the friend's house that was having a swim party. "I brought my bathing suit!" I proclamed.

"Uh, you won't need it". I won't need it. I was about to discover life in New Jersey's wealthier suburbs.

There was a rather loud group of young people in the pool. All naked as cod fish. And they were playing volleyboall or something. We bravely entered the cool waters. After a while, we retreated poolside. A joint was being passed around. The parents of the hosts were toking up along with the younger set.

I learned then that life among the wealthier classes can be different than life among the rest of us.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Paris Fashions

Well the Dow is over 9,000. Looks like rich people are going to recover faster than working Joe's. So what else is new. Just looking at the latest fashion show in Paris, the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week. Really? Who would wear those things? The woman with the shaft sticking out of her head would be really popular in a movie theatre. I can see one or two at play dates but some of the dresses might be hard to find a correct venue for. After all, award shows are hard to get into.
Of course, I consider myself to be an expert on fashion since I watch Ugly Betty and saw the Devil Wears Prada.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Switching break rooms

Since starting my job a few years ago I have always used the small refrigerator. It was closest to the coffee maker and the most convenient. Recently new employee use and the recession has made the refrigerator over crowded and recently, smelly. The other break room has a less crowded refrigerator. The higher ups use it but recently the other break room people invited people to emigrate to fix the Dickens like conditions in the small break room.

I have taken them up on the offer and moved to the large break room and it's refrigerator. Yes it's a better class of lunches now and the refrigerator has more room. My lunch gets to share it's space with leftover coq a vin instead of Bologna sandwiches. I have gone upscale. Still I have a sense of guilt in leaving the old break room. You can never go home again.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Artsy French movies

When I was a young college student I discovered artsy French movies. Truffaut, Renoir, Cocteau, and Goddard movies were the big thing at that time and I remember seeing them in a small room with a noisy projector at Fairleigh Dickinson University. There, a young man would show movies on Friday nights followed by erudite commentary. Everybody enjoyed their cigarettes while watching the movies.

Today in Trenton, one can re live that golden age of artsy movie viewing, without the cigarettes of course. The locale is Cafe Ole on Warren Street in Trenton. The movie this week (July 15) is the Malle film, Murmur of the Heart. You can drink coffee and eat pastries and there is a discussion afterwards. 7Pm. $5, sponsored by the Trenton Film Society. Oh for a stale Galousie.
Well it was fun. We had a delay because the person with the film was late because her train was delayed in Philadelphia. The film had subtitles. One thing I noticed was that a man in the front row kept laughing during the film when there were no subtitles on the screen. He must have known French.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

You know the country is going to the dogs...

Al Franken is now in the U.S. Senate. For the fine state of Minnesota. I remember when he was the obnoxious guy with the glasses on Saturday Night Live. Harvard man. His book isn't half bad. The one on Rush Limbaugh. They said when Sonny Bono became a Congressman the country had gone to the dogs. Maybe it's true. Alpo anyone?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Jamestown Colorado Fourth of July

Since it is almost the Fourth of July, I'm going to republish an excerpt from my great unpublished novel, "It must be the altitude". Yesterday I found an actual movie of the anvil ritual on the web which I will share. It's a smaller event than I remember. Either the explosion has been toned down or my recollection was far huger than the actual event. Such is life.

Jamestown Fourth of July always did its fireworks in a big way. I was inside the family house eating spare ribs when I heard a loud crack in the air that made me think the whole town had been attacked by terrorists. A giant boom, an earth shaking sonic boom. Louder than anything I had ever heard at that point in my short sweet life. A great, astounding tremulation that sent every rodent in town up into the high country.
Yes, it was the great, stupendous, annual BIG BOOM of Jamestown. An annual ritual, with origins dating back to the last century, when miners had lots of dynamite on hand, together with bellies full of whiskey and patriotic fever. For this great thundering event, the locals would assemble one hundred pounds of dynamite and place them over a two hundred pound lead anvil. On top of that was more dynamite, and another lead anvil, about the size of a Bronco. This would all be assembled behind second base in the baseball field. Someone would light the fuse and KABOOOOOOM the top anvil would hurl two hundred feet up into the air. The bottom anvil just went vertically about one hundred feet, towards the stands. Now that was the Fourth of July. "Oh, they're doing that again, Aunt Melray remarked." I was impressed.
The other thing I remember about the Fourth of July in Jamestown was the raucous party and bar-b-ques. One year I was invited to shoot rifles into the air to celebrate America's independence. There's nothing like the wild West.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Last day of school

I was driving to work the other day and as always, passed lots of students on their way to school or waiting for the bus. There was something weird about it all and suddenly it dawned on me. Everybody was smiling. There was a look of joy on the kids faces. Even the crossing guards were happy. It occurred to me. It must be the last day of school.
I had forgotten until that moment the unbridled joy of that day. There is no happier day than the last day of school. Perhaps it is the expectation of summer. Blue skies, freedom, swimming, playing baseball. The promise of summer is always greater than summer turns out to be. Still it is a wonderful feeling to be on the last day of classes. Even the teachers had grins on their faces.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How to save money on health care

There is a good article in the New Yorker on why health care is so expensive. It's not the insurance, it's the way doctors order too many tests and procedures. It's like working on the reference desk at a public library. The student has to do a paper on a rather vague topic and needs thousands of books and articles from the library. The librarian finds lots of stuff to give the patron. Book titles, reference books to be copies, websites, articles from Ebscohost. The librarian knows that if he gives the patron enough stuff he can get rid of the person and move onto the next patron in the line.

The doctor is running late and has ten minutes to deal with a patient with a series of unrelated ailments. The easy way of getting rid of the person is to order lots of tests. A battery of blood tests, barium tests, ekg's, etc. will keep the patient busy and maybe the tests will show something the doctor can use. The patient is happy because he can manipulate the tests into a day off from work and the insurance company will pay for the procedures. The doctor is happy because he can move onto the next patient in the waiting room.

It's faster for the doctor and librarians in our scenario to give the client stuff to do than do a detailed examination of the body or the school assignment. The solution to the health care cunundrum? Limit tests to ten a year, with one allowable operation.

A one payer system would be fairer to all. People could switch jobs and not be tied down because of health insurance. Everybody would have health insurance, but, like in Europe, medicine would be rationed. And Medicare should end at age 85. Sorry Grandma. Crisis with health insurance? Solved.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Air conditioning

At least here in New Jersey, air conditioning use is down. It's been cold and damp if not rainy every day. The elevator pundits at work are voicing a lot of "I'm so sick of this damn weather" and "I haven't felt dry in a week". Of course if it was 95 degrees people would complain about that too. People who would probably use less AC this year anyway are turning off the machines altogether so at least everybody is saving money. For now.

We've become soft. I remember when we lived by the fan in the summer. We had a huge window fan in the hallway when I was growing up. I used to sing through the fan to hear my weirdly modulated voice. Then my parents got a unit for their bedroom. Feeling guilty and perhaps tired of my singing, two years later they replaced the fan with an air conditioner. When they put in central air conditioning at my father's job, the old man came home with another air conditioner, which we put in the dining room. I often wondered if he paid for it.

Those units took 220 volts so some electrical alteration must have been done. My brother, the aspiring electrician, must have been involved in that project.
For now, I'm just using the ceiling fan. The halcyon days before the serious dog days kick in.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Throwing birthday parties for yourself

Every job I have ever worked at has had the same weird tradition. That is, of forcing the employee who has a birthday to make a cake to share with the staff (or buy one if they have more money than time or are male) and put it in the break room, along with bagels and cream cheese. I think this is to spare the unpopular people from the embarrassment of having no one to give them a cake on their birthday. If someone doesn't bring in a cake it shows they are lazy, but at least not un-loved.

If you listen carefully on such occasions (it's always fun to gather with bored but hungry co-workers around the cake) you might hear the birthday person reveal their age. That is the best part. The rest of the day people say "I never believed she was that old" (or young). The world of work is so much fun you can see why people hate to leave it, even if it means spending less time on their yachts.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Why I travel

This is actually a good time to travel. Airfares are low and most people are staying home, watching hulu on the Internet. People often ask why I travel and the real reason is not philosophical or to see life in a new way. You can do that at the Shop-Rite. The reason I travel is to have things to talk about at parties.

When you have children you automatically have things to talk about in social situations.

"So how is Mary doing at soccer?

"Well that damn coach changed the rules on her."

"So what college is Johnnie looking at?"

"Well he's leaning towards Bucknell but we're using Villanova as a safety school."

We all know that the reason people have children is so they have things to talk about at parties.

People who don't have progeny often try to talk about their golf game but that bores non golfers. You can talk about your job if you are a production assistant in a hit series but most jobs are dull to have and duller to talk about.

Travel, on the other hand, is a reliable way to fill in conversational lags at parties. You can talk about travel bargains in Mexico, rude hotel clerks in Turkey, dirty bathrooms in France, late trains in Italy. Travel provides many opportunities for witty and interesting anecdotes. That's why I travel. The only thing that is a conversation killer is cruises. Nobody cares what they served at the buffet on your last cruise.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Drying clothes

An article in today's New York Times on people using clotheslines mentions that the recession and ecological considerations have brought back the treasured art of using solar clothing dryers. My mother always had clothes on the line in Hackensack when I was a tot. Today it is fashionable again.

I have a sweater dryer (above) in my bedroom to avoid using my electric dryer. I was warned by the Sears guy that my dryer was warped and I should only use small loads. The passive dryer seems to work well for small items. Because I have hard water though, the clothes are crunchy after they dry. The towels are quite invigorating in the morning.

Those of us who are veterans of putting quarters in laundry machines can relate to the clothesline I had strung in my former apartment living room. It looked like the one Lucy used for comic purpose in I Love Lucy. It always impressed my guests. I guess the revival of clotheslines is a sign of the times. Sort of like Twitter.
Editor's note: Other blogs have smiling faces, followers, on their blogs. Mine have none. If you would like to be a follower (you get a link to your own blog) don't be shy.

Friday, May 29, 2009

After the test

A few days before a cholesterol test I stop drinking liquor, stop eating red meat, exercise, and eat brown rice and carrots. After the test I go to a bar, have tomato pies with the works, accompanied by buckets of beer. I know someone in Weight Watchers and she runs out after being weighed on the scale and has cheese steaks, fries and gallons of Pinot Grigiot. Before a civil service test we cram for the exam, take the test and forget everything the next day.

That's why all tests should be random and unexpected. They should measure us as we really are, not as we pretend to be. As unexpected as a fire alarm on a cold morning, and as welcome.

2AM on a Sunday morning, the fire truck drives up to the house. The tester knocks on the door. The would-be fireman appears in his underwear, full of beer. He then goes up on the ladders and demonstrates his prowess with a hose. Tuesday night at 9PM someone from LabCorp shows up at your door step and takes a blood sample. He measures you as you really live.

Random testing brings accurate results. Like the surprise quizzes in high school that brought C's to everybody, including the Honor Club crowd.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Grocery auctions

I guess it's a sign of the times, but the latest event to grace our cultural landscape is the grocery auction. I'm used to speeding through the aisles at the supermercado and this would be a change of pace for me. To sit in a chair and bid on pickels, bread, tomatoes, garbanzo beans.
"Rupiheliodeboboooladieorupdihidebob two dollars for a pint of tomatoes. Do I hear two and a quarter...Going once...going twice. Sold to the sweet lady in the front row."
Paper or plastic?


Editor's note: I have a new entry in the balcony tomatoes blog. The things one can do on one's furlough.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Employment situation

I work in a library where one of my jobs is to print out and place on economists' desks reports like the Consumer Price Index, the Employment Situation, Consumer Confidence Survey, etc. Yes I know I could e mail them but people above a certain pay grade like their documents in paper.

I've been surprised how emotional economists can be. "Dammit, you're killing me" I get some mornings when I give them some unpleasant numbers. "Gimme a break, will ya?" I've also gotten sometimes. Today the latest report is bad but not as bad as things have been. I didn't get a kiss on the cheek but I'm waiting for rosier numbers for that. I'll have to remember to shave that day.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Depression era music

When I was a youth I sometimes ventured over to New York and took the subway to Greenwich Village. There you could often hear folk singers in Washington Square Park. I remember groups with beards, banjos and washboards who didn't look like they were too familiar with Lifebuoy. The Felice Brothers sort of remind me of that type of group. Getting popular now, I heard them on WXPN in Philadelphia. Sort of a cross between Tom Waitts and an Irish fiddle band, their music is fun even though they sing about death allot. They got a good review recently in the New York Times.
Editor's note: The next blog will be on the economy. I promise.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


They say when other stories push the financial news off of the front page, that it's a sure sign the economy is getting better. Now the latest news is the high class sneakers Michelle Obama is sporting. Note the slits in the pants too. The sneakers look like an old pair of Keds that someone dollied up with a red magic marker. Guess I'm getting old. Why in my day...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

GPS in the car

Just came back from a Texas wedding. Never seen such folderol. Sparklers, matched tuxedos, limousines. I caught the garter belt.
I rented a GPS with my car to help me get from event to event. From airport to wedding rehearsal to wedding rehearsal dinner to wedding to wedding reception to wedding breakfast to airport in an unknown city required help. For anyone who has a lousy sense of direction like me, the GPS is the greatest thing since sliced bread. No more getting lost. You may think that the turn you are making makes no sense, but it always gets you to sites, at least in my experience.

I can remember as a kid planning trips my father with the AAA trip tix and maps. We would plan all the routes precisely. Maps all over the floor. Hours of planning would go into these trips.

On the trip though, we would still get lost. And then there would be the fights between dear Momma and dear Poppa over whose fault it was we missed the crucial turn. The GPS is a great marriage saver.

Back to the economy. Duh, I don't know. Some of the reports are positive, some not so positive. What the he--, a great time to buy a new home and a car.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The secrets of American culture

One of my guilty pleasures is watching shows on E! or Bravo. I enjoy the Kardashians because of the insights they provide into modern American culture. In some ways an update on Ozzie and Harriet, the show shows the real life interactions of a group of voluptuous ladies living with their mother in their multi million dollar digs and getting into mischief. Like Ricky and David, their wealthy well connected families eventually get them out of trouble at the end of each show.

I have also just discovered one of the most significant artifacts of our age. To think this show has been airing since 2007 and I am just now discovering its wonders. Chelsea Lately is a fascinating program. The round table is my favorite part, at least so far. Here current events and celebrity tidbits are discussed by her erudite regulars. The members are representative of all walks of modern life. There's a fat gay guy, a black gay guy, a hispanic dwarf, etc. What a great show! This program clearly demonstrates America's cultural leadership in the world.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The future

Today it's now April 1 of 2009, the day I predict the bottom of the economy can be experienced. I have other predictions for the future. If my predictions are true I will become famous and get a book contract. If my predictions turn out to be false, I can always say it all was an April Fool's Joke.

One year from today, ie. April 1, 2010:

The Dow Jones will be over 9,000.

The Standard and Poors Index will be over 1,000.

NASDAQ will be around 2000 and people will like Microsoft Windows 7.

The unemployment rate will be 6.5.

Obama will be unpopopular as a president. Fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan will be heavy and things will not look well on the warfront. Hillary will have a mini scandal involving finance.

Housing and gasoline will be up 15% for the year.

Ugly Betty will be cancelled, but a movie will be planned.

Governor Steve Lonegan of New Jersey will be unpopular with Jim Gearhardt for betraying the taxpayers of New Jersey. Former Governor Corzine will announce his engagement to Carla Katz.

April Fools!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

White House Victory Garden

Taking the lead from my other blog, Balcony Tomatoes, the White House is now starting an organic victory garden. An inspiration to all of us, soon we will be a nation of tomato and rutabaga growers, saving the environment and stuffing ourselves with herbivorous delights. Nice to see even former president Bush is taking part in the festivities.

On other fronts, a blog on the stimulus package is being presented on the New Yorker site. One of my favorite pod casts is the Slate Political Gabfest. Emily Bazelon has such a cute voice. On the latest cast, one of the men (probably David Plotz) proposed that there should be a way for average citizens to buy toxic assets in the package being offered by Tim Geithner. My suggestion is that one of the mutual fund companies could offer a "toxic assets" mutual fund.

Till that time.